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THE ROCK PATCH

Artwork by T. M. McNeil "G" Co

Moderated by 

ROBERT FLYNN, 
503d PRCT Historian

The Rock Patch is the insignia of the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team which served in the Pacific Theater of operations during World War II.  The Combat Team was formed from the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment,  to which was added an the 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and the 161st Parachute Engineer Company. 

Over the years since the war, a significant amount of time has been spent by many of us, including John A. Reynolds via his column the THREE WINDS OF DEATH,   tracking down the source of various documents and insignia which have a bearing on the history of the 503d. None of these pursuits have been as elusive as the Origin of the Rock Patch. For more than a decade I had been given all kinds of scenarios as to where the shoulder patch was designed, whose idea it was, who made the first drawing and on, and on ad infinitum. Well,  more by good fortune than by dogged research, I  nailed it down whilst attending our 1996 Reunion in Orlando. The person who designed the patch is Thomas M. McNeil, a former Pfc in Company "G" and a retired thoracic surgeon of Orlando, Florida. 

I met Tom in the hospitality room on the Saturday afternoon of the reunion. He explained to me that he hadn't been tomany of the reunions because of the nature of his business,  but as he lived in Orlando and the Orlando reunion was one he could barely find an excuse not to attend, he was pleased to be there.  During the course of our conversation while viewing some of the pictures taken on Negros Island, Tom, responding to a picture of the Rock Patch stated that he had designed the patch.  He explained that he had been recuperating from malaria while on Mindoro Island following Corregidor,  and requested brushes and paint from an attendant nurse and put his design to paper - well, actually to his barracks bag. The design caught everyone's interest almost immediately and soon appeared outside "G" Company HQ.  I was flabbergasted and in a state of wonderment. I had been down this road many times before only to come up dusty and empty-handed. Tom McNeil diagnosed my state of disbelief and said merely, I'll be back.

The Duffel Bag

When Tom returned to the hospitality room about hour later he had brought with him some examples of his art work which included a decorative scroll with the names of the men of Company "G" who had been killed on Corregidor. This was truly a magnificent color drawing with precise hand lettering. Tom seemed to fancy my enthusiasm  as he slowly withdrew from a large manila folder a large piece of canvas cut from a duffel bag. On the canvas was painted a picture, 8" by 5", of the ROCK PATCH. But the artist wasn't finished. From his back pocket he pulled a large leather wallet and carefully unfolded a yellowed document for me to read. It was a memorandum from Regimental Headquarters as follows: 


 

HEADQUARTERS

503D REGIMENTAL COMBAT TEAM

Office of the Regimental Commander

APO 715 

24 August 1945

SUBJECT:    Proposed Insignia.

To: PFC. T. M McNeil, (sic) Co. "G" 503d Parachute Infantry

(Thru: Commanding Officer, Third Battalion)

1. The Regimental Combat Team Commander, Lt. Col. LAWRIE, has received and commented most favorably on you (sic) excellent suggestion for a 503d R. C. T. insignia.

2. In as much as the Corregidor operation is considered the outstanding contribution of the 503d to the conduct of the War, it is requested that your proposed insignia include reference to that operation in some manner; possibly by the addition of a map within the canopy or clutched in the talons of the eagle.

3. The interest shown by you in originating and submitting so excellent a suggestion reflects most admirably upon your esprit de corps and pride in your unit. In the name of the Commanding Officer, thank you most sincerely.

ERNEST C. CLARK

Lt. Col. 503d Prcht Inf., 

Executive Officer

 


 

There was no mistaking the document's authenticity. In my position as 503d Historian I have researched literally thousands of source documents, and I was completely satisfied that this was the genuine article.

The patch was approved by Combat team Commander, Lt. Colonel Joe Lawrie, Jr. Copies of the patch were first made by Filipino seamstresses. When the Team were transferred to the Army of Occupation in Japan, they were again produced by Japanese seamstresses. Only later would they be produced by American Insignia Companies. 

In the design, the Eagle represents the American Paratroopers of the 503d Regimental Combat Team descending on the Philippine island fortress Corregidor, known as "The Rock."

The facsimile reproduced at the head of this article  was presented to me by the Tom in September 1997 at the national reunion of the Combat Team in Sacramento, California. 

We hope that this page can gather together some "Rock Patch" examples, of which there are many, and stories of the wearing of the Patch, which should be legion. It is not often in the history of the US Armed Forces that a unit has created its own battle patch identity, official or otherwise, and as long as the patch is worn, it will recall the deeds of ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances  and their experiences on a forlorn piece of foreign estate torn from the hands of its occupiers. 

 

> The Real McCoy.  Handmade in the Philippines whilst the 503d was still on Negros, this patch is from Jim Mullaney's footlocker.  I found it there myself!  Note that this version, the earliest I've yet seen,  says "Corregidor" and not "The Rock." Beautiful!

< This is a scan of a fully embroidered replica patch supplied  by Don Abbott, and is used extensively throughout the website.  Notable is the darker beak and the lack of scallops in the canopy.  

> Embroidered on to a blue cloth denim style backing, this fine patch  shows good detail and embroidery. 

< A beautifully detailed patch ,  scanned by Brock Mullis.  It's embroidered on to a blue cloth backing, and is notable for using the black and yellow AIRBORNE flash, and a beautifully embroidered Golden Eagle. It does miss the pollywog shaped island entirely, and has only five risers, but has a beautiful symmetry which gives an overall quality and high-desirability. 

 > This patch is another eBay example, said to be from the collection of an F-4U Corsair jet ace J. Gardiner Snow, and is a copy of the Mullis example above.  The Rock looks more like a boulder, or a party balloon, and the Eagle appears more like a bird of Paradise.  As every patch needs to be judged on its own merits, unusual examples such as this one hold a greater degree of interest than the normal standardised Taiwan specials that can normally be found at the local surplus store

< A beautifully detailed fully embroidered version. The Golden Eagle looks rather un-eagle like. 
 > This patch is almost the same, but  there's a very slight difference around the hen's, oops!.., Golden Eagle's beak. It's embroidered on to a blue cloth. 

< There's got to be a  story about this one as it's such a bad example. I prefer not to use the word "replica" because every patch is an original in itself, and each has its own story.  Yes, your eyes don't deceive you,  it does indeed say THE ROOK. I saw this one on e-Bay.com.  Like many eBay examples, it comes with the provenance of "WYSIWYG" (What You See Is What You Get).  It has five risers. Any larger, and it would have looked like a bath mat. 

>  Embroidered on to a cloth backing, this angular and slab-sided design  (above)  completely misses the shape of the Rock. The eagle feathers are individually profiled, which makes for a nice touch.  The patch was acquired at the 2000 Reunion, Fayetteville.  

<  A Taiwan produced variation found in a local surplus store in Brisbane Australia, this patch (above) has noticeably fewer stiches per square inch, which gives it a cheap and almost screen-printed feel to it.  It is embroidered to a cloth backing.   

^

This 'theater made' bullion example which appeared recently on eBay.com, was described as being designed by Capt Wm Bossert , the "A" Co Commander.   History is often fractured on eBay,  it's nonetheless a fine place to pick up good pieces of it.  The reverse view shows the seamstress' art.  Be aware that hand sewn  bullion versions manufactured in India are being marketed on the internet.

 

^

A cut edged full embroidered patch of Korean War vintage. 

 

<   Example of a patch made in Japan Christmas 1945. Provenance unknown.

>   A Joseph A Koran design based upon the McNeill design April-May 1945. Provenance unknown.

<   Early version on a Class A uniform

Seen on a Berlin 1956-58 Tour of Duty  paratroopers' leather jacket. 

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